I just realized that I never posted about my experience at Frontera Grill in Chicago. Shame on me! Alas, it's so far past that I can't be all that specific, but I still wanted to share some images and impressions.
If you watched Top Chef Masters, you already know that Chicago's Rick Bayliss a) cooks a mean Mexican dish and b) is the nicest guy EVER. I tried his lower priced Mexican restaurant, next door to Obama favorite, Topolobampo , before I saw him on the show, and Mr. AT and I felt very pleased with ourselves for having eaten at the winner's restaurant.
The restaurant doesn't take reservations and is very, very popular, so waiting is inevitable. Our wait was estimated to be 2 hours, and we managed to snag appetizers at the bar after an hour and a seat in a free-for-all bar table another half hour later, so it wasn't quite as bad as it could have been. But still it was much longer than I'd wait for most places.
The decor is hip, upscale Mexican - think bright colors and quirky art. The crowd, all ages, urban and professional. Even Frontera isn't cheap - this is no cheapy taco combo joint - but it's reasonable prices for such a top notch meal.
Taquitos were like the combo platter staple only AMAZING with ingredients you could actually identify and addictive crunch without being greasy. Queso fundido clasico, with jack cheese, roasted peppers and homemade chorizo was just as decadent and craveable as it sounds.
With all that appetizer goodness, I ran out of steam by the time my pork dish came out. The menu changes monthly so this isn't on the menu anymore anyway, but the taquitos and queso still are. As with all good moles, the sauce was incredibly complex, but too heavy for me after already eating so much.
Despite his best drunken efforts, the loud-talking, bimbo dating, guy next to us couldn't convince us to have plantains (a side dish) for dessert. Amazingly, El Jefe still managed to cojole me into having dessert, and the dense Mexican chocolate cake didn't disappoint. I just love spicy chocolate - is there anything better? On a trip to Oaxaca years ago, I felt in love with the cinnamon inflected chocolate of the region. Mmmm...
Everything at Frontera was delectable and put a higher-end spin on Mexican than you're used to. Bayliss is the undisputed king of regional Mexican cuisine for a reason - he takes the variety of flavors Mexican regional cuisines are known for an creates refined dishes with explosive flavors. I definitely have a chef crush!
445 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60610